On Nov. 8, the Chicago Municipal Employees Credit Union’s West Side branch officially completed its move from east end of Austin, at 4909 W. Division St., to a shopping strip in Galewood, at 6612 W. North Ave.
The credit union offers services similar to a bank, except members don’t need to put in as much money up front, and neither credit history nor income factor into the applications. In addition, members get a share of the profits, and each member can run for and vote for the credit union’s governing board. The credit union is primarily geared toward city and county government employees, but the membership is also open to employees of certain private organizations and certain residents.
The state has since allowed the credit union to expand eligibility to the entire city and most of the suburban Cook County. According to the credit union’s newsletter, a major reason for the move was to be in a better location to provide services to the Northwest Side and the suburbs.
The credit union was originally founded in 1926 by city of Chicago employees as a way to be able to save and borrow money while retaining control of the institution’s operations. Since then, the membership eligibility requirements expanded to include employees of the Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority, Public Building Commission, Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago systems, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, Chicago Public Libraries, Chicago Transit Authority and Metra employees who live in Cook County.
In 2004, the Chicago Municipal Employees Credit Union took over operations from the Austin/West Garfield Federal Credit Union, a credit union started in late 1980s by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and the Woodstock Institute of Chicago.
The merger allowed the municipal credit union to offer its services to regular residents for the first time, but only if they lived, worked or worshiped in the Austin and West Garfield Park community areas. But in 2017, the credit union got permission to expand its services to most of Cook County, which means that all West Side residents can now join the credit union.
Aside from the aforementioned eligibility requirements, the barrier of entry is relatively low. Applicants would need to pay $35, which would cover the $25 cost of a share and a $10 processing fee.
The credit union offers services similar to a regular bank, including checking and savings accounts, mortgages, vehicle purchase loans, lines of credit, private student loans and personal loans. But the number of ATMs where members can take out cash is limited and there are only three branches in total— one in the Loop, one on the South Side and one on the West Side. All branches are only open on weekdays, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Chris McAuliffe, a spokesman for the credit union, did not respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment by deadline. The credit union’s fall 2019 newsletter states that the move to Galewood “renews our commitment to the north/northwest side of the City of Chicago and provides access to new suburban areas such as Oak Park, River Forest, Elmwood Park and Forest Park.”
In a statement on her official Facebook page, Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin praised the credit union for its service and touted the opening as a benefit to the community. She noted that the new branch was larger than the Division Street location.
“My office is committed to partnering with all banks that are committed to investing monies in all the communities around Chicago,’ she stated. “It was great to be part of their 93 years serving Chicago residents.”